On Yosemite, Zambia and Smog

Years ago, I spent a whole summer high in the Yosemite back country, eight miles from the nearest road, at a place called Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Watching these crazy wildfires threaten that place breaks my heart. Prayers for you brave firefighters!

My God I love this place.

Cloud’s Rest. Yosemite. Circa 1999.

Back then, when I wasn’t working as an employee of the park, I played frisbee golf with my co-workers, using ancient Sequoia trees for holes. We ran everywhere, swam in sapphire glacial lakes and camped out at night. Flanked by mountains in every direction, we climbed them in the dark, just to watch the stars come out and the moon rise over them.

Here's what I mean.

View from Sunrise High Sierra Camp.

But then the earth tilted. The meadow grass gave way and what leaves there were, turned red and fell, and we knew we couldn’t stay.

Driving home along the Merced River, high above the Sacramento Valley, I saw the smog and bustle below and sighed. Life in the manifest presence of God, unspoiled by the tyranny of civilization, was over.

I wasn’t thinking in those terms at the time though, because I was mostly ignoring God. I just had grief I couldn’t explain.

I didn’t know I was leaving Eden.

For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made (His handiworks). So [men] are without excuse [altogether without any defense or justification]. Romans 1:20 AMP

See?

Upper Cathedral Lake.

Coming back from Zambia has been like that.

When you throw followers of Jesus into a foreign country and ask them to do difficult things, they cling to Jesus like a needy kid clutching his father’s leg. In Zambia, my regular boundaries between sacred and secular disappeared. We hugged, wept, sang, laughed and prayed like our lives depended on it – every day.

Then we came home, to the smog.

Here, in our workaday lives, our radical dependence fades and we forget how sweet the unbroken presence of God is. Here, naked vulnerability before God is a little too “out there” “too wacky” for an increasingly post-Christian culture.

So we cover it up and grieve.

Love DinnerThat’s why Christians love conferences. Thousands of people worshiping God, changes the environment in a football stadium so thoroughly, you never want to leave. It’s a reprieve from the daily catastrophe of Syria and climate change and incessant global poverty. It feels like hope.

And that’s why I’m starting Love Dinner.

I want to remember that God is the same in Texas, in Zambia and Yosemite. He invites us to erase the boundaries between sacred and secular and recognize it’s all His. But I think that takes practice, especially for those of us who grew up in secular America.

At Love Dinner, eight of us will create a mini-kingdom, practicing God presence so we can live as beacons in the smog, just like Jesus said to, and invite others to light up as well.

Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” – Jesus. John 12:36

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Two Lessons from a Mud Hut

The girls' hut.

These women are dangerous.

See this little hut with the grass roof and mud walls? I can hardly believe it myself, but for seven days, eight women called it home.

It amazes me now, solitary as I am, that I didn’t throttle anybody or succumb to panic in the suffocatingly close quarters. In fact, I thrived there. The midnight prayers that rose from that hut were so precious, I keep admiring them like a handful of emeralds.

Pray, then balance sandwiches on your head.

Pray, then balance sandwiches on your head.

Here are two things I learned in that hut.

1. We are stronger in tribes – even independent Americans.

While I prefer to sequester myself from other humans and their intolerable messes, it makes me weak. In Africa, I allowed older, wiser women into some deeply shaded parts of my life, allowing their years of wisdom and experience wash over me, and I finally understood what it is to rest for a moment in someone else’s faith.

See, when we go deep with people, into their triumphs and messes, when we witness their failures and are not scared or offended, we grow in community. Perhaps that’s why Jesus told us to stay in church, so we can deal with the inevitable conflict of being human and learn what grace really means.

The reward for the effort is deep affection for one another, and the experience of God’s grace. I love these women now in ways I can’t fully describe.

2. Prayer with a group of woman all kneeling at the feet of Jesus, works.

One night in that hut, we gathered under sleeping bags and headlamps and prayed for things some of us have never spoken out loud. I saw icebergs calve, skyscrapers of hidden guilt and fear, shearing off those women and crashing into the water below, melting in the light of God’s grace and mercy. Jesus told us to do this because He knew it would make us lighter, more nimble, and dangerous to the enemy, but I had to go to Africa to take it seriously.

After all, what scares you doesn’t scare me, so in the name of Jesus, I can walk into your dark corners and kick some ass for you. Then you can do it for me.

And something changes between us forever.

Hubbard Glacier - "Calving"

Hubbard Glacier (Photo credit: roger4336)

I wonder if our independent streak is sometimes a cover for laziness and fear. Of course it’s easier to mind our business and small talk each other to death, but who will slay your dragons when you’re too far down to do it yourself? Who will call that thing you believe about yourself the bald-faced lie it is? Who will say, “You’re drowning in Scotch but I love you and I’m here?”

So if I must choose between a lovely stone manse, with silent wings and empty grounds, and a tiny, mud hut with your socks on my bed and your burdens in my heart, I’m taking the hut. Because I need you, and you need me. So let’s do this thing together.

Do you have a small group you rely on? How did you meet them?

On Angels and Demons.

Disclaimer: I planned to disclaim this story, but I changed my mind. You are a discerning bunch, blessed with big, juicy brains and curious hearts. Use them and decide for yourself.

 

At the SCRUBS community medical clinic in Chongwe, Zambia last week, an older couple, maybe in their late 50’s, waited in a long line for medical attention. He wore an ill-fitting suit and tie, she wore a bright blue and yellow dress, with a scarf on her head. Her shoulders slumped and her eyes were flat and sad, so I figured she was pretty sick.

Charity and I had taken up our post on the bench outside the clinic, where people who’d just had worms pulled from their ears, abscesses drained, and HIV counseling, waited their turn to receive prayer from the 24 year-old preacher girl and her Muzungu friends.

Prayer Team.

Prayer Team.

SCRUBS director Holly interrupted us and told us the couple in their Sunday best were a special case.

“She has demons,” Holly said. “You guys better get ready.”

The ancient Irish had a name for places where the supernatural grazes the natural world. They called them “thin places.” But I dwell in a post-modern culture that dismisses such nonsense, pooh-poohing angels and demons as superstitious mumbo jumbo, the mark of primitive, uneducated minds.

Although I’m a bible believing Christian and the words angel and demon are used 70 times in the Bible, even by Jesus, I ignored them like a faraway relative.

Then I went to Zambia, home of desperately thin places.

For example, in Zambia and elsewhere, women believe they are used sexually by demons, who then take up residence, wreaking havoc in their marriages and mental and physical health. It’s called having a “spiritual husband.” The woman in the blue and yellow dress, whom we’ll call Sarah, brought hers to us, saying she wanted him gone.

I want to show you pictures of Sarah, but I won't.

I want to show you pictures of Sarah, but I won’t.

So, five of us walked out into the woods and surrounded Sarah and her actual husband. Charity spent a few minutes establishing who Sarah prays to, careful not to assume.

Then we prayed with nothing but the authority Jesus gave us.

Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. – Jesus. Luke 10:19 NLT

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues. – Jesus. Mark 16:17

Put on God’s whole armor [the armor of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil. Eph 6:11 AMP

She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. Acts 16:16-17

Want to start a fight at church? Start acting like you believe these scriptures. Believe they were not just for the 12 apostles and the early church but for skinny, white girls with shaky knees praying in the Zambian bush. Oh, I can hear the hollerin’ already.

Then, Sarah joined Charity in commanding the spirit to flee in the name of Jesus, and her eyes rolled back. She started talking to us in a different voice – deeper, crazier. Holly knelt, holding onto Sarah’s feet and cried into the dirt. Jess stood behind Sarah, Shelby behind me – all of us praying in the name of Jesus.

“Goodbye to you. Goodbye to you. Goodbye to you,” Sarah shouted. Then everybody got quiet. Sarah looked at Charity and said “ok it’s gone.”

“You’re a liar,” Charity shouted and Sarah jumped up and tried to run away. Charity grabbed her arm and dragged her back to the bench.

“It’s the demon, he’s trying to trick us,” Charity said. “In the name of Jesus, and the God of Elijah and Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, I command you to flee….”

More praying. More hollering. Then silence.

“It’s finished,” Charity said. “They’re gone.” Turns out it wasn’t one. It was three.

Sarah looked up with tears streaming down her face and started to laugh. Her husband joined her, clapping, I stared at Jessica, wide-eyed at the palpable energy change in the woods. Holly wiped the tears and dirt off her face and Charity checked her nails.

“Praise God. Praise God,” Sarah said, thanking us as we walked out of the woods. Then she rejoined her friends waiting on the benches outside the clinic. Her husband asked us for a bible, so we gave him one, then we went back to work.

I don’t know about you, but this story helps me make sense of Sandy Hook, Columbine, Ft. Hood, Aurora and Virgina Tech. At those heinous times, even Christians say, “how could somebody do such a thing?”

Really? Is it that big a mystery?

Jesus said, “the enemy comes only to kill, steal and destroy, but I came so you might have life, have it in abundance to the full, until it overflows.” (John 10:10 AMP)

Or have we just gotten too smart for all that? Too post-modern?

Remember what the Apostle Paul said:

For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”I Cor 1:19

Teresa's in white.

Teresa’s in white.

Teresa, a SCRUBS Nurse, put it like this, “We can’t look at the person, we’ve got to look who’s standing behind him.” So maybe that’s why, when the school shooter gets the chair, it feels anticlimactic and unsatisfying – like we got the wrong guy.

You can believe what you want to, I’m just telling you what I saw. Now, more than ever, I believe the Apostle Paul when he said, THIS IS WAR:

For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place] Ephesians 6:12-13 AMP